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Southern Illinois mathematics researcher indicted for grant fraud, allegedly hid China ties

By David Schwartz
Published: April 26th, 2021

A federal grand jury in Carbondale, IL last week returned an indictment charging a mathematics professor and researcher at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (SIUC) with two counts of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement.

According to the indictment, Mingqing Xiao, 59, fraudulently obtained $151,099 in federal grant money from the National Science Foundation by concealing support he was receiving from the Chinese government and a Chinese university.

The case is just the latest in an ongoing federal crackdown on undisclosed foreign ties among researchers in U.S. universities.

“Again, an American professor stands accused of enabling the Chinese government’s efforts to corruptly benefit from U.S. research funding by lying about his obligations to, and support from, an arm of the Chinese government and a Chinese public university,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division (NSD). “Honesty and transparency about funding sources lie at the heart of the scientific research enterprise. They enable U.S. agencies to distribute scarce grants for scientific research fairly and equitably. And they allow other researchers to evaluate potential conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment.  When researchers fall short of fulfilling these core academic values in ways that violate the law, the Department stands ready to investigate and prosecute.” 

“Fraudulently obtaining U.S. taxpayer funding is a slap in the face to the vast majority of university researchers who do the right thing and abide by the rules,” said Alan E. Kohler, Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “To those individuals who choose to conceal affiliations with foreign universities or foreign governments while applying for U.S. taxpayer-funded grants, the message should be clear: the FBI and its partners are aggressively investigating allegations of grant fraud.”

“The charges in this case are very serious,” added U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft for the Southern District of Illinois. “University grant fraud allows China to co-opt U.S. research and development at a fraction of the cost. Prosecutions like this one play an important role, not just in protecting American investments in academic research from foreign exploitation, but also in combating the growing threat that China poses to our national security.”

According to the indictment, Xiao has worked in SIUC’s mathematics department since 2000, focusing his research on partial differential equations, control theory, optimization theory, dynamical systems, and computational science. In that position, Xiao allegedly applied for and received NSF grant funds for a project set to run from 2019 to 2022 without informing NSF about another, overlapping grant he had already received from the Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province, China. Xiao also allegedly failed to inform NSF that he was on the payroll of Shenzhen University, a public university in Guangdong Province, and that he had already committed to teaching and conducting research at Shenzhen University from 2018 to 2023.

The indictment also alleges that in March 2019, while his NSF grant proposal was still pending, Xiao submitted another grant proposal to the Natural Science Foundation of China. According to the indictment, Xiao allegedly applied for the funds as an employee of Shenzhen University and did not disclose the new Chinese proposal to NSF. Xiao is charged with falsely certifying to SIUC that his NSF grant proposal was true, complete, and accurate.

Before awarding the grant, NSF questioned Xiao about any current or pending funding from “worldwide sources,” including specifically whether he held any position outside of the United States or had obtained funding from non-U.S. funding sources. The indictment accuses Xiao of falsely reporting to NSF that he had nothing else to disclose.

If convicted, Xiao faces up to 20 years in prison on each count of wire fraud and up to five years in prison for making a false statement. All three charges are also punishable by a fine of up to $250,000.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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